The Unexpected Friendship of TSMO and Complete Streets

November 16, 2021
Patrick Son, PE &

Adults and children walking in a cross walk pushing a stroller.

Historically, the typical user of a transportation system was a 9-5 commuter. How we built these systems was centered around the prototype auto-centric user, to the detriment of other commuters. However, the focus now and in the future should advance towards accommodating all users of the transportation system.

Prioritizing Users Whose Needs Have Not been Met

We need to prioritize safety, comfort, and access to all people who use a roadway. According to the Institute of Transportation Engineers, this includes “providing individuals with a choice of transportation options when moving from origin to destination, and is important to enhancing the safety, health, and overall livability of a community.” The focus on prioritizing traditionally underserved users and changing how their needs are met through a different transportation approach is where Complete Streets and Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO) form an unexpected friendship.

Complete Streets highlights the needs of underserved users like people living with disabilities and senior citizens. In contrast, TSMO highlights the needs of emergency responders and provides safe access for maintenance workers on roadways. This partnership takes shape when analyzing the policies and procedures of transportation agencies, the approaches taken to manage and operate the transportation system, and recognizing that users of Complete Streets and TSMO are already good friends in the community.

A Different Transportation Approach

Changing the approach does not always mean rewriting our entire playbook from scratch. In the case of TSMO and Complete Streets, a different approach means:

  • Evolving our methods.
  • Being open to process changes.
  • Reorienting our focus to the multitude of users that interact with the transportation system.

Evolving Our Methods: In TSMO, this means considering every potential option to manage and operate the roadway before adding lanes. Trying proven methods from other areas that use intelligent transportation systems, advanced mobility options, and emerging technologies can challenge the status quo. Within Complete Streets, evolving our planning and design methods to prioritize traditionally underserved users allows planners and engineers to leverage new tools to meet the community’s needs.

Being Open to Changing the Process: This needs to be embraced at all levels of government and transportation agencies. Both TSMO and Complete Streets require a deeper look at existing policies, why they were created, and associated processes. As an industry, changing the desired outcomes, like improving transportation access and traveler information for the aging population, is a positive outcome we all can strive for.

Reorienting Our Focus: Through the inclusion of additional users, transportation has become an extremely difficult problem solve. Adding more users’ needs can create confusion and contradictory policies and highlight complex interdependencies that define what values are important in our communities that the transportation system should serve.

Complete Streets typical underserved users are older adults, people living with disabilities, people with no cars, children, pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transportation riders

Therefore, our focus starts with the interactions, the interdependencies, but most importantly, the commonalities that we share with the least represented user of the transportation networks. Like a parent pushing a stroller, users can transcend generations, geographies, and context to help focus on the actual problems we need to solve.

TSMO users are maintenance personnel, technicians, first responders, safety service patrol, and work zone workers

Have You Pushed a Stroller?

While walking with my wife and pushing my daughter in a stroller, I was educated on the actual problems of the way our streets are designed. Pushing our stroller enabled me to internalize how I have not been taught, nor would have ever considered, pushing a stroller in my traffic engineering training. I have designed traffic signals, pavement markings and lighting, traffic control plans, and ITS plans in my career, all with the commuter in an automobile as the primary user.

From a Complete Streets perspective, accommodating parents pushing a stroller can create wider walking paths, ramps into businesses (and secured stroller parking), protective signing and striping to cross streets, and other solutions that wheelchair bound users may desire.

From a TSMO perspective, using a stroller to determine the safety of temporary traffic control features during construction may yield safer transition zones, improved line-of-sight, clearer signage, and advanced technologies that improve work zone safety and minimize the risk of incidents from the jobsite or vehicle traffic.

Strolling Forward

The ability to stroll forward will come from embracing the complexities in the interactions, interdependencies, and commonalities we share in developing solutions that can serve all users of the transportation system – starting today.

As we look to the future, we must ask ourselves whether the road that got us here will get us there. As an engineer, I believe the lessons we learned getting to this decade of knowledge is a foundation in how we reorient our focus towards the future, but at the same time evolving our methods, approaches, and formulas, that influence the transportation infrastructure investment decisions made today enable tomorrow’s transportation system.

When you push a stroller down your street, what do you notice?

Patrick and his child in a stroller.
Patrick with his child in a stroller.